Charming staff but I left the pudding

The Woodmancote
The Woodmancote
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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

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Once a backwater pub north of Emsworth, the Woodmancote re-opened in May after a major refurb by new owners.

From the outside the near-minimalist look of grey and white fits in the current trend of the less-is-more brigade type of pubs. Just the protruding shutter-like wood over windows and huge shiny, silver lettering give a portent of the interior.

An outdoor seating area by the car park, with its ersatz grass carpet and wide screen, gives way to a cornucopia – no, cacophony – of differing designs more suited to a bling Costa del Sol nightclub thanks to the over-the-top restaurant sporting a chandelier of massive proportions.

Polka dot high chairs by the bar and striped ones around tables are squeezed into an uncomfortable corridor space. The bar, a bottleneck area joining the old lounge and Victorian dining room, is home to a good coffee machine topped with china cups more akin to Edwardian high tea. Silver tea pots are close by.

The lounge, complete with 1950s-style brown banquettes, hanging brass, silver-painted wrought iron brass table and ancient over-stuffed chairs, gives way to the other more restrained dining room, a peek-a-boo draped curtain giving the notion that a séance might take place at any minute. Clearly the new owners like surprises and jokes, the Madonna and cross standing by the entrance giving their game away.

And the food? Does it mirror the owners’ diverse leanings? No, it’s pretty bog-standard, surprisingly. Homemade soup, a half-pint of prawns, fishcake, pork pie, whitebait or meat terrine might be your starters of choice from £4.50.

Sharing platters include mezze, charcuterie, mixed carved meats and seafood from £11. Home-made ’luxury’ fish pie, sausage and mash, fish and chips, homemade burger and specials tie up the mains, Sunday’s menu is the usual with roasts, most dishes (bar the expensive specials board) around £10. A veal chop will set you back £22.

On an overlapping menu (some dishes are served all week including Sundays), there’s a pigeon and smoked bacon pie or a steak and kidney one alongside dressed crab or stuffed marrow on linguini with Provencal sauce. Salads and sandwiches also feature, the only thing that might frighten the horses a beetroot emulsion with one of the salads. Otherwise, it’s pretty standard nosh.

Roast belly of pork (£9.50) demonstrated that the kitchen doesn’t overly stretch itself. The crackling was non-existent despite covering a large square of very tender but bland pork. Apple sauce was nicely served in a kilner jar, but the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes were not of the just-like-gran-makes variety and the unseasoned, unbuttered small-dice carrots and cabbage were tired and tasteless.

Desserts also go down the tried and tested route. There’s apple and sultana crumble, bread and butter pudding and Eton Mess (£4.70). The latter was indeed a mess, with disappointing meringue, cream that didn’t taste right, one small strawberry cut in half and pureed fruit.

There is one upside to this new addition to the area though. Service is a delight. On-the-ball, friendly, charming staff make up for some of the lack of kitchen prowess, although any eye contact from one of the flamboyantly-dressed owners when taking the order would have been welcomed.

A glass of decent French Merlot boosted my bill to just under £20, but a refund was given for the uneaten pud when it was mentioned to one of the owners. He showed concerned graciousness.

This pub is really one you will either relish and embrace or remain puzzled and somewhat exasperated by. I’m in the latter category.